Raising the Bars in Tacoma (pun intended)
If you haven't noticed the buzz in Tacoma, I think you may need to jump out of your bubble and get with the program. Things are moving and shaking in the Grit City, and a new vibe has hit the streets. According to the city's website, Tacoma has a relatively young and well-educated labor force in comparison to the nation. According to Dupre + Scott, a local real estate research firm, by 2019, close to 4,500 new apartments units will be built in Pierce County. That would be a record for the last 25 years. “Tacoma has the highest rate of construction for apartments in the entire United States," said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, and according to Windermere Realtors in Tacoma, millennials are the largest generation in the home-buying market. This makes the time right for young, innovative chefs and bar owners to to capitalize on the new population.
I'm a sucker for creative cuisine and scratch cocktails. I love fresh products, experimental dishes, and drinks that are designed in house. I also pay a lot of attention to ambience in a restaurant. If the lighting isn't right, or the aesthetics are off-putting, I'm gone. I know it kind of sounds like a little "food-snobbery", but I'm married to an incredible home-chef, so it takes a lot to justify spending money eating out. Enter the new guard. First stop for me is En Rama in Downtown Tacoma. Located on the main floor on the corner of 11th and A street. En Rama is the latest project from Chris Kiel (1022, Hilltop Kitchen). Featuring Kiel's renowned cocktails, (the Lavender) sherry on tap, and delicious food offerings (A plate of buttery Polenta served on a wood board with a constantly changing assortment of garnishes), En Rama is a must visit for local foodies. Its cozy interior and large, well-lit patio offer the perfect location for a date night, post-work attitude adjustment, or a fun girl's night out.
Fresh pastas are made in house by Chef Nina McCracken, formerly of Seattle’s Spur Gastropub. The menu also offers homemade meatballs, capellini with anchovies, chiles, and lemon, and a wide variety of lighter fare you can share with friends. Every time I've been there, the drinks, the food, and the service have been spot on. It's a great place to people watch, and it's a hit with the young professionals who are changing the scene in Tacoma. Monday: Closed Tuesday: 4PM - 10PM Wednesday: 4PM - 10PM Thursday: 4PM - 10PM Friday: 4PM - 12PM Saturday: 4PM - 12PM Sunday: Closed
Next on the list is a new little gem tucked away on Opera Alley called Devil's Reef. It was highly recommended to us by Chris Kiel, so we knew we had to check it out on our hunt for new haunts. Devil's Reef did not disappoint. It's the latest creation by Robyn Murphy and Jason Alexander, who also own the Tropical themed Cabana, but this place comes with some serious character. It's low-lit, den vibe with a nautical twist makes you feel like you've stepped into the scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean. I'm not joking.
Located directly across from the Blue Moon Cafe, you have to know what you're looking for because there is no signage, just a number indicating the bar's whereabouts. Once you enter the door marked 706, you can choose one of the four private booths, tables tucked into corners, or belly up to the bar. The decor is straight out of a movie set and if you look up, you'll find friends "swimming" above your tables. It's a total trip.
The Devil's Reef boasts a large collection of top-shelf rum, and the specialty cocktails crafted by Alexander are meant to create a sense of tropical mystery.. a little sexy, a little exotic, and a lot of fun. Alexander and Murphy imported a hundred bottles of a very special rum they found in France after visiting the aging sight. If you get the chance to visit this nautical hideaway, you might want to ask to taste some of the single cask Barbados XO Plantation before they run out. Their food menu offers tropical bar food with an edge. Edamame hummus, Jerk Chicken Bowl, Korean- Style short ribs, and Bao Buns are some of their offerings, but the list is long! We know we found a hidden treasure here. Sunday: Closed , Monday: Closed , Tuesday: Closed , Wednesday 5PM–12AM Thursday 5PM–12AM, Friday 5PM–12AM, Saturday 5PM–12AM.
Last on my list of new and exciting watering holes in Tacoma is the new Matriarch Lounge. If you read my blog post a few weeks back, you were introduced to the new event space in Tacoma called Alma Mater. At the time I had written that post, the only restaurant in the space was the Honey Cafe. We can happily announce that the Matriarch has finally opened to the delight of the cocktail crowd, and it's success is proof that it was a much needed addition to the Tacoma bar scene.
The space feels a bit like a speakeasy, with beautiful leather and velvet green couches, marble tables, and brass accents. The decor is lux-contemporary and the vibe is almost like hanging out in someone's trendy living room. The cocktail menu is daring and creative, using spirits like Mezcal, cognac, and brandy, and ingredients like rosemary syrup, pomegranate molasses, and orange bitters. Still, for those who stick to their traditional drinks, they shouldn't worry. This bar is well-stocked for even the local beer lovers with four taps of rotating craft beers and a selection of Belgian beers in bottles.
Matriarch Chef, Kyle Wnuk was the original co-owner and executive chef of Marrow, the former Sixth Avenue restaurant known for featuring unusual meats. He designed his sharing menu with that same creativity in mind and seriously pushes culinary boundaries. Peruvian Anticucho Beef Heart, Camel Kefta, and Moroccan Pork Belly are a few examples of the meat skewers you can order. We opted for the Piri Piri Cauliflower skewers and they were amazing. If you're not into kebab-style plates, there's much more to choose from. Potato crusted Baja Shrimp, Beet Salad, or Mushrooms on toast will make your mouth happy and your stomach satisfied. Open Sunday to Thursday 4PM - 10PM, Friday and Saturdays 4PM to Midnight.
I can't tell you how excited I am to watch Tacoma grow into it's new and improved self. The energy is changing, there is a new feeling of excitement in the community that is evolving into a, cool, hip and trendy destination, and we're all benefiting from the city's fresh vibe . It seems like every month there's a new restaurant, bar, or shop opening up with innovative styles aimed at keeping their patrons excited and engaged. So here's to Tacoma raising the bars... literally.
All photos taken by the amazing Christy Ash from Christy Ash Photography
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